Patients before profits: taking our message to the community

Lyn_Hopper during_Q_and_ANearly 200 people showed up at Harbord Diggers for a community meeting about the privatisation of the Northern Beaches hospital.

The audience was addressed by a leading US advocate for affordable universal healthcare, Donna Smith, health union leaders, nurses and community activists.

State health minister Jillian Skinner and Treasurer Bruce Baird, plus representatives of the private contractors, were invited to speak to the community but didn’t front up for the meeting.

Donna Smith says Australia needs to learn from the American experience of privatised health care.

“Privatisation is something you should be very worried about in Australia. Australia performs better in every measure of your health care sector than the US does – in health economy, health efficiency and health outcomes.

“Wouldn’t you prefer to keep a system that is performing better? Our healthcare system is not one that you should follow.”
Donna said governments were crafty about the way they privatised health services.

“Privatisation did not happen in one swoop in the US. They chip away bit by bit by bit.”

NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said public hospital privatisation was once again an emerging issue in New South Wales, with the state Liberals and Nationals resurrecting the failed Greiner-Fahey government policy of asking private companies to run public hospitals.

“They have started with the new Northern Beaches hospital, which will largely replace the Manly and Mona Vale public hospitals,” he said. “The state government hopes no one else around the state will notice what they have done. The same applies to the federal Liberals and Nationals who are also trying to hide their support for this dangerous policy.”

Brett said the Association had launched its Patients before Profits campaign last week to ensure that the community was fully aware of what the Liberal-Nationals were doing.

“The NSWNMA is currently running television advertisements on the issue and has also started holding public information meetings, such as the one at Harbord tonight,” he said.

“The decision to privatise the new Northern Beaches hospital is just the first step down the road of privatisation of our public hospital and community healthcare system. Words like contestability and outsourcing don’t fool anyone. The idea that it is only new hospitals being privatised doesn’t fool anyone either.

“We all know how this works. They start off slowly to get the idea established, and once they have a few hospitals privatised they then start running arguments about how it is now silly to keep all the rest in government hands. We’ve seen it all before, in other privatisation experiments.

“And having both a state and federal government in power that supports the idea will undoubtedly see the rate of hospital privatisation accelerate. That would be a disaster for patients and hospital staff as private companies and NGOs either cut back services, pay and staffing levels, to run a profit, or eventually start demanding the right to charge hospital fees.

“Our parents and grandparents worked hard, against powerful private and vested interests, to build us a good-quality, free public hospital system and an affordable overall health system. Will we leave our children and grandchildren the same – or will we leave them a costly privatised mess?” Brett said.

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda says the Association has taken a lot of flak for highlighting the privatisation issue during an election campaign, but it has a responsibility to inform the public about what is going on.

“We must always be vigilant,” she said. “We know these threats exist and we must always be ready to confront them head-on if we are to maintain public hospital services.

“Our critics have claimed that in speaking up for public hospitals we are dishonest. Well, let’s just consider what has already happened and what is happening right now.

“We know that the O’Farrell Government has called for expressions of interest from private operators to design, construct, operate and maintain the new Northern Beaches Hospital.

“They also announced last week they are seeking expressions of interest for piloting a privatised mental health initiative in New South Wales.

“In Western Australia the Barnett Government has privatised, or is looking to privatise, services at the Peel Health Campus, Joondalup Health Campus, the Fiona Stanley Hospital and the Midland Health Campus.

“In Queensland, the full privatisation of the planned Sunshine Coast University Hospital is on the table as is the operation of the new Queensland Children’s Hospital. The public day oncology services at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane have already been privatised to form a new Mater Cancer Care Service.

“This is what public hospital privatisation looks like today in Australia. It may be incremental and it may be occurring by stealth but it is happening right now.

“And it happens under Liberal/Coalition governments. They are philosophically opposed to universal insurance in health – always have been and always will be.”

According to NSW Health’s Annual Report 2011-12, the Northern Sydney Local Health District already has the highest share of private beds in Sydney – 45.4% of all beds compared to a state average of 22.0%.

The Illawarra says no to privatisation
Another community meeting held in Wollongong heard there was enormous resistance to privatisation, particularly of health services in the region.

In a survey commissioned by the Save Our Ports Committee, 83% of respondents thought privatisation of public assets and services was a bad idea. Only 10% thought it was a good idea.

Resistance to the privatisation of health services was even more marked: 92% thought Wollongong Hospital should stay in public hands, while 91% said they thought that, in general, health services and hospitals were better run by government.